Every year around the holidays, readers ask about ways to volunteer with their children in New York City. Surprisingly, finding ways to give back with kids isn't always as easy as you'd think. Many charitable organizations have age minimums for their projects, and family-friendly volunteering opportunities often book up weeks in advance. (Which, of course, is a good sign—better to have too many people interested in volunteering than not enough.)
With Thanksgiving approaching, we wanted to highlight some great ways NYC kids and their parents can give back to those in need. We're including opportunities for children of all ages so everyone can participate. While kids might not be able to work in a soup kitchen, they can help the homeless, hungry, and elderly in other meaningful ways.
Here's a list of family-friendly ways to put the "giving" in your Thanksgiving.
The Race to Deliver raises money for meals for the needy. Photo by Jessica Frankl/courtesy of GLWD.
The Race to Deliver — Central Park
Sunday, November 18; 8:30am for adult race; 10am for kids' races
This God's Love We Deliver fundraiser is super-fun for kids. This four-mile adults' run/walk in Central Park is followed by a variety of children's races. The fundraising goal for this year is $415,000. Sign up as a family, join a pre-existing team, or sponsor a runner or team, all through the GLWD website.
The 2018 Thousand Turkey Challenge — Upper West Side
Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew
263 West 86th Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue
See website for drop-off date and times
Pick up a frozen turkey and donate it to the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), which provides Thanksgiving staples to local low-income families. More than 1,400 families received turkeys and other seasonal foods at the church's emergency pantry last year. Note: You can purchase a turkey at the Gristedes supermarket next door. Small turkeys up to 14 pounds are preferred. You can also donate online at their website or text TURKEY to 56512 on your smartphone ($18 per turkey).
Kids can pack meals and make holiday cards with FeedingNYC 2018. Photo by Jonathan Wolff/courtesy of FeedingNYC.
FeedingNYC 2018 — Chelsea
Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers
23rd Street and the West Side Highway
Tuesday, November 20, shifts run all day beginning at 6am
Since 2001, this grassroots organization has delivered more than 70,000 complete Thanksgiving meals to New York City families in shelters. Join with 300 volunteers to pack and deliver meals. All ages can participate, but volunteers younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult and have a signed waiver. Registration is available online.
Thanksgiving Morning Meal Delivery — Citywide
Thursday, November 22
God's Love We Deliver prepares and delivers nutritious meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses. Volunteers can sign up to help prepare and deliver meals in locations around the city. While this project takes place on Thanksgiving morning, families should have plenty of time for their own festivities. Volunteer drivers must have a driver's license and their own car, and register in advance. Kids are welcome to participate. Their presence cheers up any delivery. There is a cap to the volunteers they can accept, and certain neighborhoods fill up fast, so register now if you want to help. Some destinations already have wait lists.
Kids are welcome to help grown-ups pack meals at Gobble Gobble Give NYC. Photo by Timothy Holland/courtesy of the event.
Gobble Gobble Give NYC — Harlem
The Church of the Intercession, 550 West 155th Street
Thursday November 22, 8am–12:30pm (sign up for one of three shifts)
This volunteer organization collects potluck dishes, along with toiletries and blankets, and delivers hot meals and care packages to the homeless around the city on Thanksgiving Day. All work is complete by 12:30pm so you can enjoy your own holiday dinner. Volunteer tasks include kitchen crew, conveyor belt crew, food boxers, vehicle coordinators, drivers, and cleanup. Children are welcome with an adult. Volunteers must register online and everyone is required to bring a Thanksgiving dish. Registration will begin in early November. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.
Serve a Hot Meal to the Homeless — Upper East Side
Manhattan Church of Christ, 48 East 80th Street
Saturday, November 24, 10am - 2pm
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Manhattan Church of Christ opens its doors to serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal to the homeless. All shifts are family-friendly for volunteers of all ages, and involve a set-up team to set tables and decorate, a service team to run trays of food back and forth to the guests, and a break down and clean up team. Email Rev. Carl Garrison, Outreach Minister, to sign up to volunteer at email@example.com.
More Holiday Volunteer Options
Dorot's Card-Making Program – Citywide
The community-based organization Dorot has plenty of family-friendly volunteer opportunities to ease the stress homebound seniors face. Its card-making program is easy for even young volunteers. Families are asked to create birthday or holiday cards, and mail them to Dorot. The organization then mails your crafty creations to homebound seniors to brighten their holiday.
CAMBA – Brooklyn
Fill up the cart at the grocery store with your kids, let them pick some items, and then bring it over to one of CAMBA's several canned food donation points in Brooklyn. The nonprofit feeds thousands every night and says the need never lets up. The organization offers services and housing to the homeless, too. Call ahead to find out out what's on its shelters' must-have lists at this time of year.
Masbia Soup Kitchen Network – Brooklyn and Queens
Various locations, see website for details.
Masbia operates soup kitchens in Flatbush and Borough Park, Brooklyn, as well as Rego Park in Queens, and welcomes the help of volunteers 10 and older to serve hot meals to all who enter. Volunteers are welcome for onsite work, such as playing host in the restaurant-style dining rooms, bussing tables, washing dishes, prepping meals, and working in the kitchen. Volunteers are also needed to distribute flyers to individuals who might need Masbia's services.
New York Cares Coat Drive – Citywide
2018 collection kicks off in November
Another great opportunity for young children, who might ask why the Statue of Liberty is seen huddled and shivering in the snow on ads at this time of year. New York Cares' annual coat drive provides homeless and low-income families with something warm to wear. Donate gently used coats of all sizes or even start your own drive in your building or school. Collection sites are located around the city in transportation hubs, police stations, and participating stores. Check the New York Cares website for a complete list of drop-off locations.
NY Common Food Pantry 2018 Turkey Drive – Citywide
The New York Common Food Pantry served meals to over 62,000 people across NYC last year. Consider organizing your own drive at home, work, or school to help the pantry collect food to distribute to low-income New York families. Nonperishable items such as canned cranberry sauce, rice, gravy, stuffing mix, cake mix, pasta, and canned beans are best. No glass jars, please.
Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry – Citywide
Sign up to host a Friendsgiving celebration for No Kid Hungry. It's an easy way for you and your community to come together and give back to kids in need.
Citymeals on Wheels – Citywide
This charity provides local homebound individuals with hot, prepared meals. Children, accompanied by adults, can help to deliver meals. Children can also get involved by making holiday cards to be distributed to seniors with holiday meals.
Encore Meals on Wheels — Midtown West
Help Catholic Charities of New York deliver meals to seniors in the midtown Manhattan area. Families with children of all ages are welcome to sign up for three-hour shifts on Saturday mornings throughout November and December. Bring the gift of a delicious and nutritious meal, and provide homebound seniors with some company and smiles.
Remember, many charities accept Halloween candy for our military and their families.
To find additional kid-friendly ways to give back to the New York City community, subscribe to the FREE Doing Good Together/NY newsletter, a monthly roundup of local volunteer opportunities appropriate for families.
A version of this story was published in 2017; it is updated annually. Katie Nave Freeman contributed additional reporting.